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Home arrow Sociology arrow Bourdieu and Social Movements: Ideological Struggles in the British Anti-Capitalist Movement

The Occupy movement

The Occupy movement emerged in New York, in September 2011. It spread to the UK in October of the same year. However, by February 2012, most occupations and camps claiming to be part of Occupy had disappeared in the UK. The London one moved to Finsbury Park and lasted until June 2012.

The movement originally formed as a response to the ongoing global financial crisis in the USA. Occupy's formation is complex; it includes some of the same politicos who were involved in the major protest events at the turn of the century, such as the 'Battle of Seattle' or the regional and World Social Forums (Graeber, 2013; Smith and Glidden, 2012), but also new activists who were not around at that time.

I would argue that Occupy has extended the anti-neoliberal sentiment to a broader populace, who have realized that neoliberalism significantly benefits a minority of the population. Placards bearing the statement 'We are the 99%' became a regular feature at many of the Occupy protests. In fact, it is arguable that this statement encapsulates some important political points, namely, the way in which the mismanagement of the major global economies has impacted on the majority of people who were not responsible for the current financial crisis (Graeber, 2013). It has to be acknowledged, however, that the Occupy movement would never have emerged in the way that it did without the Tahrir Square occupation and subsequent Egyptian revolution, or the occupation by the Indignados in Spain earlier in 2011 (Castaneda, 2012; Graeber, 2013; Kerton, 2012).

Occupy sits within the AGM field as another episode of its development. It is part of the numerous anti-neoliberal political groups including, but not limited to, trade unions, NGOs, activist groups and anti-austerity groups. There was a mixture of ideological and post-ideological positions present in the various groups, each with overlapping, similar and diverse politics and demands. The divisions and tensions which have plagued the British anti-capitalist movement field re-emerged in the UK Occupy movement. While there were numerous divisions, for example, between older and younger activists, the interminable tension between socialist and organized political groups on the one hand and anarchist activists on the other was present as well, the latter accusing the former of trying to take over the movement. This comes down to a disagreement over ideology, especially around principles of political organization. There was a strong anarchist influence in the Occupy movement in terms of consensus-based organizing, whereas within socialist and trade union circles that were present, majoritarian decision-making was dominant. This led to tensions and, due to the overriding anarchist influence, the Occupy movement in the UK did not seem to progress beyond an occupation of parts of city centres for more than a few weeks. What is key about the Occupy movement is the fact that other citizens became active and in chapter 7 I explain this as a crisis of doxa. Moreover, the ideological divisions between anarchists and socialists prevented any political progress beyond the occupation. At the moment the British anti-capitalist movement field (BACMF) is certainly on a downward swing in this cycle of contention.

 
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